Wales Remembers those who stood against WW1
Over 900 men from Wales objected to fighting in WW1 as a matter of conscience. In 1916, with the introduction of military conscription, many conscientious objectors were imprisoned for their beliefs, their stories largely hidden from history. 100 years later, at Wales’ foremost peace festival – the National Eisteddfod – their bravery is to be recognised with the unveiling of a new public ‘register of conscientious objectors’, as part of the Heritage Lottery funded ‘Wales for Peace’ project, supported by the Assembly’s Wales Remembers programme.
A trial copy of the ‘Pearce Register’ of Conscientious Objectors database will be launched on the Eisteddfod field at Abergavenny on 4th August 2016, at 1pm in the Peace Tent (‘Y Babell Heddwch’ 240). To introduce this key heritage event, Aled Eirug, academic and former BBC Wales Head of News and Current Affairs, will provide the background to the ‘Pearce Register’ and answer questions on Conscientious Objectors from Wales during WW1.
The event is the first of a Wales-wide exhibition tour exploring ‘Belief and Action’ – with a public call for people to share hidden histories of those who have campaigned against war in the last 100 years.
Craig Owen, Head of Wales for Peace at the Welsh Centre for International Affairs said:
“Anti-war movements today are an integral part of society and democracy. But in WW1, objectors to war had to display incredible bravery and endure major hardships to stand up for their beliefs. This user-friendly register we hope will help Welsh communities, schools and students to research and unlock the hidden histories of these Conscientious Objectors from across Wales through WW1, enabling users to search names, beliefs and motivations for objecting, some COs’ family details, and to search groups of COs from specific towns or counties. As community research emerges, Wales for Peace, with our heritage partners, can offer training and a website platform to share these long-forgotten stories with the rest of Wales."
Behind every name lies a moving 'hidden history', and it is hoped that many more will emerge following this week's launch. Two case studies available alongside the Pearce Register launch include:
- Harry Myles Riding, Newport - shared by Harry's granddaughter Marie Skinner from Griffithstown, Torfaen, Wales for Peace have digitised and shared photographs and a diary (RH) on People's Collection Wales - that tell of Harry's sentencing for his beliefs, and the impact this had on his future wife, Florence, and family ass they rallied to support him.
- Jenkin William James, Pontrhydyfen - Video Story "imprisoned for his conscience" by granddaughter Catherine James from Dolgellau, with Breaking Barriers and Quakers in Wales.
Wales is indebted to Cyril Pearce, former Senior Lecturer at the University of Leeds, for his meticulous life’s work in collating the ‘Pearce Register’. A retired Senior Lecturer and Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Leeds, he has been working on the history of British 1914-18 war resisters for some time and will be releasing a new book, Communities of Resistance, in 2017.
Aled Eirug, an authority on the Conscientious Objectors of Wales who is currently finalising his PhD on the subject, will be providing an insight into COs during WW1, and the fascinating individual stories that can be uncovered. He said: “A register of the conscientious objectors of Wales is all-important, in order to honour and remember the sacrifice of over nine hundred men who sacrificed their freedom and in several instances their lives, for peace. As we remember the First World War, it’s important that we not only remember the sacrifice of the soldiers who died in the War, but also the bravery and the sacrifice of those men who were persecuted because of their decision to stand against the social, religious and political pressures of the age. The Register serves as a catalyst for further in-depth research into the lives of individual objectors across Wales, and serves as a timely reminder that carrying a gun was not the only way to become a hero.”
Attendees at the launch will have an opportunity to look at the database and to trial the digital interface. Following the trial and feedback from educators in August, the completed database will be finalised and available for public access by the 1st of September, in time for the beginning of the new academic year. Additional resources on the subject have also been prepared by Wales for Peace and the National Library of Wales.
The Wales for Peace project’s focus on conscientious objection during WW1 will continue with the Cymru’n Cofio funded ‘Belief and Action’ exhibition to be held in different venues across Wales during 2016-17. Communities who would be interested in hosting or contributing stories to the exhibition can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aled Eirug is currently undertaking a PhD on conscientious objection with Cardiff University’s School of History, Archaeology and Religion. He is an Ofcom Content Board Member, was Head of News and Current Affairs for BBC Wales from 1992-2003, Chair of the British Council’s advisory committee for Wales 2012-2015, and constitutional adviser to the National Assembly for Wales from 2007-11. View Aled Eirug’s professional profile here.
Wales for Peace is a four-year project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and supported by 10 organisational partners including universities, the National Library for Wales and movements such as the Urdd and Cymdeithas y Cymod. The project’s core question is: “in the hundred years since the First World War, how has Wales contributed to the search for peace?” Wales for Peace is a heritage project working with communities across Wales; it is also forward-looking in stimulating debate around issues of peace for the benefit of future generations.